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Kunqu Opera version of Lonesco classic to be staged in Beijing

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2018-04-14 07:06

An elderly couple welcoming invisible guests to their isolated house is the main story of a play, titled The Chairs, by Eugene Lonesco (1909-1994), one of the foremost Romanian-French absurdists.

Written in 1952 and premiered the same year, The Chairs, some six decades later, has been adapted into a Kunqu Opera piece with the same title by director Ni Guangjin and scriptwriter Yu Xiating and will be staged at the Tianqiao Performing Arts Center in Beijing on April 27 and 28.

The work was commissioned by Tadashi Suzuki, the acclaimed Japanese theater director, who invited five Asian directors to produced their pieces based on The Chairs.

In September 2016, the five adaptations premiered together at a village in the mountains of the Toyama Prefecture, on Honshu island, in Japan, where Suzuki and his Suzu Company of Toga are based.

"The other four theater companies are contemporary and they did great interpretations," says Ni, adding that the version by a theater company from South Korea was based on the original script, while the version from Taiwan was a comedy.

"Our version attempted to bridge the gap between 600-year-old Kunqu Opera and modern theater."

Separately, Ni says that the Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe is trying to adapt classic Western scripts such as William Shakespeare's tragedies into Kunqu Opera works.

Ni, who began working as a Kunqu actor at the age of 10, has been working with the Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe since 1994.

Speaking about the play, he says: "It's always a challenge to put two different cultures together onstage. But what makes this experiment much more difficult is that Kunqu Opera is a very unique art form with solid methods and techniques of acting, singing and moving.

So, we had to work very hard to balance the art form and the Western story."

Also, Ni says that unlike the contemporary theaters, which put many real chairs onstage, he used symbolism, which is typical of Kunqu Opera performances.

With only one chair and two actors, the Kunqu Opera version of The Chairs gives a new life to the centuries-old art form and brings freshness to the classic piece of "theater of the absurd".

Composer Sun Jian'an also simplified the music by using few instruments - only the flute and percussion, which are mostly used for Kunqu Opera.

Speaking about what he learned while producing the work, he says:"

While working on The Chairs, I couldn't help comparing the old couple to the situation of Kunqu Opera in real life. The old art form, like the old couple, is lonely and trying hard to connect with the contemporary world. "The old art communicates energy, not just words. What the audiences, especially the young generation, need is to learn to appreciate its beauty."

After its premiere in Japan, The Chairs directed by Ni was staged in Beijing, Shanghai and toured internationally, including Russia, Japan and Albania.

According to Yu Xiating, a scriptwriter of the Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe who adapted The Chairs for Kunqu Opera, the show in Japan was the first time that the Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe had performed at such a venue.

"It was a village isolated from the outside world. We spent 10 days there. We watched lots of plays.

"Many theater lovers and students from all around the world were there. We learned to concentrate. It was all about theater."

If you go

The Chairs

7:30 pm, April 27 and 28, Tianqiao Performing Arts Center

Kunqu Opera version of Lonesco classic to be staged in Beijing

(China Daily 04/14/2018 page20)

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